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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Entitlement

It is always tempting to claim that right now is the worst example in history of something. People have never been more rude than right now. The streets have never been more dangerous than right now. Kids have never been weirder than right now. Usually these statements are ridiculously false, particularly here in the Good Ship North America, where war and real suffering is something that happens to other people (or, at worst, a very small percentage of our own). Even complaints about traffic are probably lies, if you look at the average time to get from A to B. Sure, maybe you commute two hours to work, but it would have taken a medieval peasant two days to trudge the same distance. Whatever your personal bugbear, I guarantee at some point in the past, it was worse.


So having dismissed all previous claims that today is the worst time in history, I'm going to make a new claim: I think that we have never felt more entitlement than right now.


Historically, I'd imagine that emperors and royalty felt pretty strongly that they were entitled to all the good stuff and none of the bad, that other lives were theirs to do with as they wished, and if they wanted to plunge their nations into war just to win a bet, well, so what? However, they were a minority. I'm sure the people they ruled over didn't live and breathe with the idea that they were entitled to anything, much less everything. Even something as basic as daily bread was mystical enough that we have a prayer for it in the Bible. Talk about setting your standards low!


But today... boy, are we entitled to things. Ignore the enormous list of "rights" and civil liberties that we take for granted every day (and freely discard the second even the ghost of a threat peeks over the horizon). Rich people feel entitled to grab for more and more, stepping on the backs of wage-slaves to claim it. Workers feel that every penny of profit a company makes should get divided equally between them. Professionals who get paid kick-ass salaries feel their paycheques should be bigger, their hours should be shorter, their offices bigger, their pens fancier, and their coffee more expensive. Fans deserve unlimited amounts of time from the people they adore. Fame entitles you to skip queues and circumvent life's little rules to get your own way.


This little commentary was inspired by Wil Wheaton. He was recently staked out at a party he was attending so that when he exited, he was surrounded by rabid and eager people thrusting 8X10 glossies in his face to be signed. They didn't just have one picture each, either, but stacks of them. So intense was the press that they cut him off from his friends, like separating a lone wildebeest from the pack before the hyenas fed. He signed a couple of things and tried to get away, and a woman followed him for two blocks, calling him bad names and threatening to besmirch his reputation. (I'm paraphrasing: "calling you a fucker on Twitter" would be more faithful to her diatribe.)


Were these people in the right? I sure don't think so, but they felt entitled to have their hopes fulfilled, and when you take away something a person feels entitled to, they get furious. It wasn't that Wheaton walked out early on a scheduled signing; he was ambushed by stalkers just because he was in the public. Sure, he's a public figure that owes his career to his fans, but being a fan entitles you to nothing. More accurately, it entitles you to the exact same thing non-fans get: the ability and freedom to share in the body of work someone produces.


Don't get me wrong: plenty of famous people think they're entitled to more than they really are, too. I think most of us get pretty smug about how all the things we have (or want) are ours "by right." We deserve them, cause we're just so darn special. It's an attitude that can only lead to bitterness: if you think you're entitled to your high paying job, soon you'll think you're entitled to a higher paying job. It's an endless cycle.


Thinking you're entitled to something doesn't make it true. Now, I am not Mr. Sunshine (in fact, I believe a few people used to call me "Sunshine" sarcastically), but I truly believe that if everyone could just stop thinking they were entitled to everything they have and more, our Good Ship North America would be a lot happier. There would sure be a lot less arguments and screaming matches.


Then maybe I'd be able to get all the things I deserve. It's about time I got my due!

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